Learning from Summer Experiences – Redefining Research

Since many of you (including myself) have probably started thinking about your upcoming summer plans, in this post, I wanted to do a reflection on my past summer and how my perception of research changed through that experience.

At the Kyoto Symposium, scholars from the University of Tokyo and Kyoto University met up for a poster presentation. This is at the Nijo Castle.

This past summer, I spent 11 weeks in Japan, which was something that was only possible thanks to Princeton’s incredibly long summer. (For readers unfamiliar with Princeton’s schedule — this happens because Princeton starts the fall semester later than most schools.)

To preface this post, I would like to mention that the program I participated in was not sponsored by Princeton. As an unprepared first-year student, I actually was almost late to the application cycle for two of the largest Princeton-sponsored summer internship programs, International Internship Program (IIP) and Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS), and succeeded in being rejected from all that I applied to. Thus, I really started to scramble and look for internships around March, when most people had already gotten their acceptances and knew how they would be spending the summer.

(Here’s a related post I wrote on how to look for these non-Princeton affiliated internships!)

Thankfully, my scrambling paid off, and I found a great summer opportunity. I actually participated in two internships, but here, I’d just like to introduce one.

My first two months in Japan were spent as a member of the Amgen Scholars Program. The Amgen Scholars Foundation was created by the American pharmaceutical company, Amgen. The summer research program, which is a full eight weeks, is one of its flagship programs and provides scholars with a stipend to do life science related research in certain regions of the world. There are programs in the United States, Europe, Asia, Canada, and Australia. I participated in the program in Japan at the University of Tokyo.

Before this program, I had *almost zero* experience in research; my “previous” experience consisted of working for a few hours every week in a lab during high school, where I would blindly follow the graduate student’s instructions. Fortunately, the program does not require ANY previous research experience, and you also do not have to be a life sciences major to apply.

While I felt very apprehensive and inexperienced going into the Amgen program, the mentor that I had at the University of Tokyo was extremely helpful in guiding me in my project and teaching me basic laboratory techniques.

This internship taught me a lot about research and the common misconceptions about it. While I was there, I decided to ask my mentor if there was something that seemed obvious within his profession, but the general public seemed to misunderstand.

My mentor replied that the research field is something that requires a lot more interpersonal interaction and communication than most people realize. For him, research was about collaboration and competition – two things that couldn’t exist without colleagues.

While I thought I understood this coming in, seeing how this collaboration and competition actually happens in the laboratory was exciting and revolutionary. My laboratory routinely went to meetings with other laboratories and I personally also got help from doctorate students in other laboratories during my time there. It was a moment where I finally understood why research had to be collaborative, not individualistic.

Going in with almost no real laboratory experience, the past summer was incredible — it allowed me to grow as a person and as a student. The most important aspect for me was that I was able to build upon this experience when I was doing interviews and writing essays for summer internship for this upcoming summer. Reflecting back was incredibly helpful in figuring out what to expect from this summer and changing my perspective on what research really is — I recommend it for anyone who’s participating in an internship!

Nanako Shirai, Natural Sciences Correspondent